Friday, April 27, 2012

Surprise: Healthy Living Is Not Easy!

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By Dr. Madelyn Fernstrom

Somewhere lost in all the messaging about healthy living is the one about effort level. You know, how much effort it takes to make and sustain a health-promoting change. Many people view healthy, fit people as somehow just magically turning out that way. Must be good genes, or good luck – or some combination of the two – is a popular theme. But while we see the “end product” of a healthy person, what is less known is the consistent effort that goes into maintaining health. Mindful eating, focus on physical activity, and effective stress management are all a daily part of the routine.
This whole concept came to me the other day in reading an honest insight from the Pulitzer-prize winning author Anna Quindlen. She wrote about how difficult and challenging writing is for her, what an effort it is to just sit down and write. While people might have an image of writers as having words and ideas just flowing out easily (this is a “job”?), this is not the case, as this award-winning writer points out. (Full disclosure here: She’s one of my favorite nonfiction and fiction writers in America!)
This concept connects exactly the same way to healthy living. We see healthy, fit people and simply assume it’s easy for them. And, as studies continue to show, it’s hard for everyone! 
So don’t be surprised when you try to change a habit – and it’s tough. Change your mind-set to understand that health-promoting changes ARE hard to make and sustain. That’s why choosing one or two things to work on is the best goal. Making a small change every day is not easy. And be patient: It takes about 3 weeks to change a habit. After the first week (which you must accept just “slugging through”) it becomes easier over time, until it’s incorporated into your daily routine!
What health promoting changes have you made? I’d love to know.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Sustain Your Earth Day Efforts

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By Dr. Madelyn Fernstrom

Many of us thought about ways to “go green” this past Sunday, April 22 – Earth Day. And while it’s great to make that one day a focus of a healthier planet, I’d like to suggest we all continue our activities on a daily basis – and make this one-day event the start of regular and consistent Earth-friendly habits.
Here are a few of my favorite – and very easy – ways to be save energy every day, and be gentler to our environment: 
Be careful what you recycle: Every packing material and container is not recyclable just because it has a number inside a triangle visible on the bottom! Those numbers have meaning about the ease of recycling. One of the biggest culprits is styrofoam, which is not typically accepted as a recyclable item in most facilities. If you dump it anyway, it must be removed from the acceptable items – a bigger waste of energy. Check with your neighborhood waste management service, or go online for a list of hard-to-recycle items and find out where you can dispose of them properly.
Swap out your window cleaner for a mix of vinegar and water: No chemicals here, but a great window cleaner; economical too! A bottle of Heinz vinegar mixed one to one with water cleans any glass surface.
Switch to CFL (compact fluorescent light) bulbs: These are amazingly energy-efficient. One CFL bulb has the life of 12 conventional incandescent bulbs. And newer versions are brighter, with soft light – not the harsh white light many people don’t like.
Eat like a “flexitarian”: You can reduce your carbon footprint by cutting back on meat in your diet. The perfect nutritional plant protein equivalent to meat is soy. Swap out your chicken for some tofu in a vegetable stir fry. If you’re new to soy, try some ready-to-eat soy chicken nuggets or “burgers.” Aim for more than once a week, if you can! Try new combinations of black beans and rice, white beans and quinoa, or other mixtures you like. Look online for easy, creative vegetable protein meals. Learn to be a flexible eater.
What other easy ideas do you have to keep the earth green? Please share your thoughts!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Stop "Grazing" to Lose Weight

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By Dr. Madelyn Fernstrom

I’m not sure when this change first occurred, but we’ve gone from a nation of structured “three square meals a day” to grazing all day with small, frequent meals. We do this all in the name of good health and weight control. Does this idea of “fueling” throughout the day really work? Not for most people! 
While it is well-documented that skipping meals leads to overeating later in the day, eating more often doesn’t really help to control calorie intake any better than eating three meals a day. In fact, eating less often can help cut calories. 
The more often you eat, the more likely you are to consume extra calories. And extra calories, healthy or not, contribute to extra weight. It’s also harder to keep track of daily calories when you eat more often — your six smaller meals can easily become six bigger meals.
When you eat three times a day (meals and a small snack if you prefer), you support the regulation of true hunger and fullness. With four to five hours between meals, it is much easier to recognize true hunger, eat a meal, and then sense contentment (fullness). When you’re eating every two hours, with smaller amounts of food, you’re never really hungry and you’re never quite full. That can cause mind-body confusion and lead to overeating.
So if your goal is to trim calories for slow and steady weight loss, I’d suggest starting with trimming how often you eat every day. Stay hydrated between meals with loads of water (flavored with a slice of fruit or splash of juice), herbal teas, or your choice of low-calorie beverage.
These suggestions should work well for healthy people. If you have diabetes or another chronic illness, or if you take prescription medications, always talk to your doctor or a registered dietitian for advice on how often you need to eat to support your personal health. 
Has this strategy worked for you? Let me know!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Healthy Living Leads to a Long Life

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By Dr. Madelyn Fernstrom

That headline is constantly in the news – and many of us think it’s a new one, based on “recent scientific studies.” But did you know that nearly 50 years ago, a public health pioneer documented this “new” finding?
Dr. Lester Breslow, who recently died at age 97, provided mathematical proof that certain healthy habits were connected to a longer life. This shook the public health world, since it confirmed that behavior could most definitely influence longevity. It’s not just a question of biology or “luck.”
Nowadays, with all of the fine-tuning of health messaging, maybe it’s time to get back to the basics as the foundation of healthy living. Here are the recommendations of Dr. Breslow, from the 1960s:
  • Don’t smoke.
  • Drink in moderation.
  • Sleep 7 to 8 hours nightly.
  • Exercise moderately.
  • Eat breakfast.
  • Eat regular meals.
  • Maintain a moderate weight.
Sound familiar? And you’ll note the word “moderate” repeated. Maybe it’s time to avoid the health extremes – of having “ideal” healthy habits – and just make small changes over time. Feeling overwhelmed with this list? Pick one or two, and build on that. 
Are you overwhelmed with too much health information? Does this strategy make sense to you? Let me know!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Don’t Worry, Be Happy

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By Dr. Madelyn Fernstrom

These four words resonate with everyone – but how easy is this to do? 
Michael J. Fox , the gifted TV and film actor, has a wonderful attitude about managing worry that I’d like to share with you. You might know that he has lived with Parkinson’s disease for nearly 20 years. And when it comes to managing a chronic illness, the “worry factor” is part of daily life.
When asked about his concerns about his future physical health, his response provided me with a burst of clarity in “worry management.” He said that it doesn’t pay to worry and explained why. If you worry about something and it finally occurs, then you’re worrying twice about the same thing. And for him, once is enough. 
 So cast your worries aside, and keep a smile on your face. Start by looking at your day and listing the positives instead of what went wrong. Learn to be a glass-half-full person – not a half-empty one. Think about what put a smile of your face during the day.
But if you’ve tried these strategies and your worry-meter continues to rise, reaching out to a family member or friend for help is an important next step. Sometimes a friendly ear is the best treatment. And talk to your doctor if you can’t seem to shake your worries for large parts of the day or night. Asking for help to support a healthy mind and body is a symbol of strength, not weakness.
What do you do to manage your worries? Let me know!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

5 Tips When You Don't Have Time to Exercise

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By Dr. Madelyn Fernstrom

Are you among the millions of people who have no time to exercise? It’s the number one reason cited for not moving more.  We all have good intentions, but when time is short, try these tips to maintain an active day – and to stay connected to a healthy lifestyle. Some activity is always better than none!
  1. Try a brisk 5 minute walk 4-5 times a day.
  2. Focus on good posture at your desk to strengthen your body core.
  3. Take a break every hour to stand up and stretch; try to touch your toes.
  4. Sit on an exercise ball (or exercise cushion) instead of your chair at home or at work.
  5. Schedule a “walking meeting” when you can.

These are all “learned” habits….and it takes about 3 weeks to make a habit stick. I did this myself – and while the first week was tough, it became easier with time. These tips are also easy to maintain.
What other tips can you share with us, to move more when there’s no time to exercise? 

Friday, April 6, 2012

Enjoy Your Holiday Eating!

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By Dr. Madelyn Fernstrom

With a big holiday weekend coming up – spanning both Easter and Passover – many of us are anticipating family time that includes all kinds of special holiday foods. 

I think it’s time we all started to look forward to holiday eating with a sense of controlled indulgence, rather than the “it’s a holiday so calories don’t count” point of view. It’s important, because holiday eating occurs much more often than we think – and we have very short memories when it comes to food! When you tally up major holidays, family birthdays, sports events, weddings, and more, it’s not just an occasional splurge we’re talking about.

There’s just one recommendation I have (and use myself!) to be a smart, guilt-free indulger for all holidays. THINK before you eat. This doesn’t mean don’t eat – it means make a better choice.

Ask yourself if a certain food is worth the splurge or simply eaten because “it’s there.” For buffets, take a minute to scan the whole table, and focus on your favorites. Can’t decide? Indulge in everything by creating a downsized serving of each: Nix the huge serving spoon or ladle and use a tablespoon. 

Skip that dreaded sense of deprivation by giving yourself permission to enjoy everything on the holiday table, if you choose. And eat what you like best. Avoid the “food is love” mentality – and never eat because you want to please the cook. You DO have control over what you choose to eat or not eat!

Holidays are wonderful family and food times. Learning to make holiday eating part of your long-term personal eating routine is worth the effort!

What strategies keep you on track? 

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Balancing Act: How to train for your race without letting it take over your life

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By Carolyn Simitz

Walking around your office with bags of ice strapped to your shins? Talking PRs and negative splits with your 8-year-old? Sleeping on the couch because your spouse can’t stomach another 4:30 a.m. run?
Stop! You may need a training intervention! Many new runners, training for an upcoming race, stumble into one of these common pitfalls – doing too much too soon, over-training, or allowing running to take over their life. Training for a race should be fun. It shouldn’t be painful, lead to nights soaking in an ice bath, or put a strain on your relationship. To ensure that you reach race day with a smile on your face and a spring in your step, follow these three basic principles.

1.    Build a general base of fitness before setting a training goal. It’s not uncommon for someone who has put running on the back burner for several months (or years) to hear about a race, get excited, and jump right back into training. Unfortunately, they forget that their body and overall fitness is not where it used to be. Many “returning runners” fall into the “too much, too soon” trap. Before beginning a training plan, allow time to ease back into a regular physical activity routine. Focus on low-impact activities, such as walking and cycling. Establish a baseline before beginning a training plan. It will provide you with the conditioning necessary to withstand the demands of training and will help prevent injuries. Enjoy the benefits of an active lifestyle before tackling a rigorous training schedule!

2.    Take rest days. Many enthusiastic runners find it hard to take a break. They get scared that if they miss a day of training, they’ll lose their motivation, or worse, their fitness. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Rest is a vital component of training. Schedule at least one rest day a week. Resting offers the mind and body a much needed break. It will help you avoid injury.

3.    Keep things in perspective and balance. Don’t become a slave to your training schedule. Being consumed by training leads to fatigue and burn-out. Make a schedule for the week ahead. Include your workouts as well as all the other things that are important to you. Look at your schedule as a road map, but understand that the key to successful training is flexibility. Don’t stress if you miss a workout. Instead, see where you can make it up. If you feel overwhelmed by your “to do” list and chores, find ways to turn errands into training runs. If you feel you are neglecting your family and friends, invite them to join you for a walk or cross-training session. Lastly, regardless of what the calendar says, listen to your body. If it’s screaming at you to ease up, listen! Your health and happiness are more important than a PR.

Carolyn Simitz is an Exercise Physiologist, Certified Personal Trainer, and running enthusiast.